(As posted on the 9/25/2020 Messenger)
At its September meeting, the Board of Deacons of our church decided to move forward with the placement of Black Lives Matter signs at our church.
This decision was taken not only at the urging of our wider denomination to become more publicly visible in our commitment to racial justice, but also because the Board felt it to be the faithful response to the current racial crisis in our country and community.
I realize that this may be a controversial action not only in our wider community, but within our own church as well. Consequently, I will be addressing this decision by means of the sermon this Sunday, September 27th, and there will be follow-up information here in the Messenger from members of the Board of Deacons.
The sign will go up immediately following the worship service this Sunday.
In the meantime, let me try to pre-emptively allay any concerns about this decision by addressing some common questions that may arise out of this action:
Question: What is “Black Lives Matter”?
Answer: Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international activist movement, originating in the African American community, that campaigns against violence toward black people.
BLM participants have demonstrated in response to numerous deaths of black people while in police custody and in support of economic and social equality for the black community. Many in our congregation have participated in such demonstrations. While a movement, it is decentralized and has no formal hierarchy or structure.
Question: Why not say “All Lives Matter”?
Answer: Of course all lives matter! There are times, however, when it is important to lift up those in a particular group who are not experiencing this truth. A couple of things here:
- The language is not “Only Black Lives Matter” nor is it “Black Lives Matter More”. It is simply that “Black Lives Matter”. Many African Americans do not believe their lives matter equally (and there is certainly evidence to support this) so it is important to state what should be obvious: Black Lives Matter.
- Black people are at risk from systems in our society that devalue or endanger them far more than any other racial group such as: mass incarceration, economic inequality, housing discrimination, inequality of educational opportunity, and others. The devaluing of black lives is a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow; systems that were in place for hundreds of years in our country.
If your neighbor’s house were burning, you would not tell the fire department that all houses matter. You would want them to direct their attention to the house in danger. So it is with black people both in the US and globally today. The house is on fire and we need to act!
- In the founding years of this nation, the same person could say “all men are created equal” and still hold some people in bondage, not seeing them as created equal.
Frances Scott Key, who wrote our National Anthem, included the words “land of the free” in that song. He was, ironically, a slave owner.
Because of this history “all lives matter” has too easily meant only the lives of citizens identified as white.
Question: What about the police? Isn’t “Black Lives Matter” a statement against the police? What about Blue Lives?
Answer: No one is saying that the lives of police officers don’t matter. Of course they do. Any death of a police officer should be mourned. Again, all lives DO matter.
There are laws, policies, and practices protecting “blue lives” that make it highly unlikely that deadly violence against the police will escape consequences. The reverse is not true for black lives.
Black Lives Matter calls out the actions of those police officers who commit unjustified, extrajudicial violence. It calls out the system that protects such officers from responsibility for their acts. It calls for change in a justice system which disproportionately incarcerates people of color. These ideals are not anti-police. In fact, these ideals directly aligned with the mission of the police to “protect and serve” their communities.
Question: Why is this happening now? Haven’t we made great strides toward equality?
Answer: Strides toward racial justice and equality have always provoked an intense backlash. We are currently in a time of such backlash; a time when those who believe in racial justice and equality need to be visible and vocal as we stand in the public square.
FCC places the sign “Black Lives Matter” at our church to acknowledge that none of us are free until we are all free. My liberation is bound up in your liberation.
Again, while this may be difficult for some, the church leadership has decided that this is the right thing to do. It may stretch us in ways that may make us uncomfortable at times. It may call us to be courageous in ways that we are not used to. But stretching and courage can be a very good things! And this action is certainly in keeping with much of scripture including Paul’s admonition to the Galatians:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
The sermon about Black Lives Matter from worship on September 25, 2020:
Contributions from our Deacons about Black Lives Matter:
from the 10/2/2020 Messenger:
Dear FCC Community –
As a church we do a very good job of supporting individuals in need through programs like Refugee Immigration Ministry and Bread of Life – this need exists due to systemic racism (https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism). Systemic racism is the way racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society. Among other impacts, systemic racism keeps our communities segregated, causes disparities in health, and contributes to the massive wealth gap. Looking at the wealth gap alone the numbers are staggering. In Boston, while white households have a median net worth of $247,500, Black households have a median net worth of $8! This summer the Board of Deacons began a conversation about how the First Congregational Church community can address and take more direct action to dismantle systemic racism.
After the deaths of George Floyd at the hands of police, Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of racist citizens, and too many others to mention, we felt our church could no longer be silent. Our faith calls us to act in the face of injustice. The Board of Deacons had multiple conversations over the summer about how to respond. One option raised was to put up a Black Lives Matter sign, as a number of other faith communities around us have. Among the Board there are multiple views on this. To clarify people’s thinking, and give everyone a chance to share and discuss their views, we asked each person on the Board to share how they feel using a 5 point scale ranging from “Fully Support Putting Up A Sign” to “Opposed To Putting Up A Sign.” We were heartened and inspired by the open conversation that followed. In the end, the Board decided that we need to show our support for the Black Lives Matter movement by displaying a sign.
The Board also felt strongly that a sign was not enough – that the symbol needs to be backed with action. As one step toward action, each Deacon is exploring how their area of ministry can play a part in dismantling the pervasive system of racial inequality. One example of where this work has already begun is in Christian Education. Over the summer, Laura Pollica and Jaime McAllister-Grande planned and implemented a book exchange for families that included books that uplift Black people in American history, tell the story to the Civil Right Movement and examine issues such as poverty. Children each read two books and wrote a response that they shared with a book buddy. One important way to take action is to educate our children about how we got here, how to talk about race and understand the privilege they hold simply by virtue of being white, and how to use their privilege to work for justice.
The Board of Deacons also feels it is important that everyone in our community understand that this a statement in support of the Black community; it is not a statement against anyone – a common misconception of the Black Live Matter movement.
Throughout the church year we will offer opportunities for education and participation in actions related to dismantling systemic racism. The Black Lives Matter signs that went up on Sunday signals our commitment as a church to work for racial justice.
Beth & Dan Hampson
An Important Start
Jaime McAllister-Grande, Christian Education Co-Deacon
(from the 10/16/2020 Messenger)
When I was a student at Holy Cross College in Worcester, I elected to attend a trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico sponsored by the Chaplain’s office. The focus of the trip was on learning about how faith, politics and poverty play out in the lives of families living in this area.
As a person who valued her faith, as well as a student who was majoring in Spanish, I was excited and also nervous about the trip. I worried about how I would feel visiting the homes and meeting the children of families who were living in poverty, coming from a very comfortable living situation at a selective college in the US.
On the trip, and still to this day, the quote printed on the back of our trip t-shirts was what provided me the guidance I needed. From Indigenous Australian artist and activist Lilla Watson, it said:
“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time,
but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
As I sat with families in Cuernavaca, hearing about their struggles and their faith in God, it was clear to me that our wellbeing was tied together. God made each of us and loved each of us. I support the Black Lives Matter movement for the same reason. I know from history and reading and lived experience that I have more supports, more opportunities, and more future potential in the US because my skin is white. Conversely, I know that the past, present and future experiences of my fellow Americans who are Black are more difficult, more painful and more dangerous than what I experience.
It is a painful legacy, and difficult to sit with. But I believe that my faith calls me to not just sit with it, but to stand up in support. I need to communicate clearly: The way things are right now, in housing and schools and policing and more, is not ok. It is not ok that my life as a white person is more closely protected, and more highly valued, than yours. I need to do better. Not to ‘help’ you – but rather, because every life that God makes matters, and I have been part of a system that has not valued your life. I need to do more to make sure Black Lives matter.
Putting up a sign that says Black Lives Matter is one way we as a faith community can begin to ‘stand up’ in support. There is much more to learn, to listen to, to do; I believe this is an important signal and an important start.
from the Video Message posted on 10/23/2020 titled “Black Lives Matter”: